Workforce Development Programs across America Are Shutting Down

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A week ago I wrote a blog about the threat that the shutdown poses to Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs. The post noted that “as the shutdown drags on, serious questions are being raised as to how long some WIA programs will be able to continue to operate.” Unfortunately, these questions are being answered, and not in the way we had hoped.

The impact of the federal government shutdown on workforce development programs that are funded by the federal government but operated by cities, towns, and counties is being felt across the country. Programs in every state have implemented or are considering layoffs. Some have gone so far as to shut down all operations completely.

These programs, which are designed to help unemployed and underemployed individuals find work, are facing the ultimate irony: they are being forced to shutter their doors and lay off their own staffs.

Why is this happening?

The answer is fairly straightforward. The shutdown has prevented new federal dollars from flowing to states and localities to fund these programs, and without those funds to pay salaries and overhead these programs have been forced to shut down temporarily.

Prior to the federal shutdown, the U.S. Department of Labor was unable to obligate new funds, and now many of the nation’s workforce development programs are running out of the funds they had on hand. And states, counties, and cities do not have the resources to pick up the slack.

Here are several examples:

• South Carolina’s Lower Savannah Workforce Investment Area has furloughed nearly all of its workforce development staff and posted following message on its website:

Due to the [federal] government shutdown, the Workforce Development Unit (all but three staff) will begin furlough for an indefinite amount of time. Information on this site may not be updated in a timely manner or updated until the furlough has ended.

• Iowa Workforce Development furloughed 69 employees due to the federal government shutdown and cut back client services. Among the workers furloughed were those who perform occupational safety and health inspections, provide services to disabled veterans, generate employment data and support information technology, state officials report.

• The Buffalo Workforce Development Consortium and Workforce Investment Board furloughed 36 employees as of October 2. According to Buffalo Business First, the “Buffalo Employment and Training Center (BETC) has been closed indefinitely. . . . BETC customers have been redirected to the New York State Department of Labor and to the Educational Opportunity Center for assistance.”

• The State of Kansas has reduced the hours of the state’s many one-stop workforce development centers, and one major provider has furloughed 60 percent of their staff.

• All Missouri Work Assistance (MWA) employees have been furloughed until further notice, which means that comprehensive workforce development services such as orientation/assessment, case management, Individual Employment Plan (IEP) development, and training and employment services will not be available until these employees are able to return to work.

• All Workforce Connection Adult/Dislocated Worker Programs in LaCrosse, WI are suspended and the entire staff is furloughed.

• In Binghamton, NY, ten county employees who provide workforce development services have had their positions cut from five  to three days a week as a result of the federal government shutdown.

And the list goes on.

The services that these offices provide are desperately needed by low-income and unemployed workers so that they can obtain training and find new, well-paying jobs.  However, if the federal government shutdown continues more and more local programs will have to lay off workers, curtail hours, and possibly shut down completely.

People across America who were receiving outstanding assistance through their local Workforce Investment Act programs will be without services or a place to turn to to get the employment assistance they need.  We as a nation cannot afford this.  The most important thing we can do right now is get people back to work.

There is only one solution to this problem: reopen the federal government now and allow grant funds like those supporting Workforce Investment Act programs to begin to flow again.

Please contact your Representative today by phone, email or Twitter, and let them know that you support the passage of a clean continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014 so that people impacted by this shutdown can get back to work.


Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.